The holidays are hectic. With all the parties, concerts, food, lights, decorations, shopping, visiting and travel, kids and adults can feel overwhelmed. Even good stress, like the anticipation of a coming holiday or finding just the right gift for a loved one, can take a toll on individuals and families alike.

Why not give your family the gift of calm this holiday season by practicing mindfulness together?

You don’t need to sit silently and meditate, you just need to slow down and be in the moment. You can model holiday mindfulness for your child by putting down your phone and other electronics and being present for each experience. Encourage your children to focus on their five senses and their hearts throughout the season.

Here are some ideas to bring mindfulness to many common holiday activities and tasks:

Concerts, plays, and other performances: These are a feast for the eyes and ears. Encourage your child to watch and listen carefully.

  • Ask them to think about how watching and listening to the performers makes them feel.
  • At intermissions and afterward, talk about what each of you found the most beautiful, surprising, funny or sad during the performance.

Decorations: Even if you don’t decorate your home for the holidays, you’ll be surrounded by decorations in your community. The sights, sounds, and smells can be overwhelming.

  • Lights are a big part of many winter holidays, whether they are candles, twinkling lights on trees, or big displays. Talk with your child about lights as you see them or as you light candles. Why do they think lights are such an important part of many winter holiday celebrations? How do the lights make them feel? What are their favorite kinds of lights? Share your tradition’s stories about the role of lights.
  • Many of our holiday decorations have a distinctive scent: pine, melted wax, spices (think Gingerbread houses or clove and orange pomanders). Even fire in the fireplace–not necessarily a holiday thing, but a cozy winter experience–has a distinctive smell. Encourage your child to notice the way things smell different at the holidays. Some people even think that air outside has a distinctive smell when it is going to snow.

Cooking, baking and feasting: Taste and smell are front and center here, but also touch. Include your children in cooking and baking for the season, allowing them to help with as much preparation as possible.

  • Ask them to think about how ingredients feel and smell as they prepare them. Even preschoolers can help tearing lettuce for a salad!
  • When eating special holiday treats, encourage your child to taste slowly, savoring the flavor, texture, and aroma of each item. Ask them to describe how a treat tastes.
  • When making and eating traditional family items, tell your child the story of the dish and the memories you have around it.

Gifts: Choosing gifts for folks can be an overwhelming task, and often buying gifts can be expensive, hectic, time-consuming and stressful.

  • Engage your child in thinking about what simple item or experience might be a special gift for a loved one. Emphasize that the value of the gift is not how much it costs or how fancy it is, but how it reflects the giver’s care and admiration for the recipient.
  • Encourage children to make gifts. This engages sight, touch and sometimes smell and taste, if the gift is baked or cooked. Homemade coupons or gift certificates are a great way to give experiences to loved ones.
  • Wrap gifts together. This is a lovely, tactile and visual experience. And many hands make light work.

Being outdoors: Even if you don’t like snow sports, winter is a great time to be outside. Fresh air and sunshine can help chase away winter blues and foster a sense of calm.

  • Visit places you usually go other times of year–parks, the beach, gardens–and ask your child to notice what is different in the winter. How does it look, sound and smell in the winter? How do plants look different? What animals can they see or hear?
  • If you have snow, go for a walk in the snow and ask your child to listen to how snow changes how things sound. Why do they think this happens?

Make time for quiet and routine: Silence, or even quiet, can be hard to come by. During the busy holiday season, prioritizing quiet and everyday routines can help reduce stress.

  • Try to keep your family’s regular routine as much as possible, including family meals. Meals are a great time to have conversations with your kids and really listen to their thoughts and ideas. Have everyone at the table say one thing that’s in their head and one thing that’s in their heart–what are you thinking and feeling just now?
  • Build in some quiet, screen-free time–even just half an hour on the weekend–where you and your family can draw, write notes or letters, stretch, go for a walk or do another favorite, relaxing activity.
  • Read aloud with your child. You can find many wonderful picture books about the season’s holidays and traditions to share with your child. Reading a story together and talking about it is a wonderful way to slow down, be in the moment and connect with your child. As you are reading and afterward, ask your child what she thinks or how she feels about the story. Listen carefully to her response. It may surprise you.

Give thanks: So much of the holiday season directs our focus to buying, going places and getting things. Help your child experience the origin of many holiday traditions by practicing gratitude. Get your children thinking about what they are thankful for.

  • As a family, take some time to write notes to people you are thankful for–family, friends, neighbors, community givers, care givers.
  • Ask your child to think of some non-toy or -electronic things or experiences they are thankful for. Then together, think of ways to support or those things. Is your child thankful for dogs? What can you do to help dogs? Is your child thankful for music or cookies? How can you share those with others?
  • Every so often, at dinner, or driving in the car, ask everyone to name something that they are thankful for. You might be surprised what you hear.

By slowing down and taking a mindful approach to the holidays with your family, you can add a sense of peace and joy to the season.

by Eileen Hanning

This Article's Author

Eileen Hanning, M.Ed., has more than twenty years designing reading curriculum for underserved kids and training for their parents and social service providers about reading and child development. Her passion for children’s books and hands-on learning has lead her to review children’s books, learn, research and write about education, child development and toxic stress, and to create her own consulting company, ReadLearnReach, where she serves a variety of clients with their curriculum, children’s book and writing needs.